Funny how things work out sometimes, isn’t it?
Three years ago, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh chose Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith to run the offense, and for a while, it proved the right decision. Smith didn’t lose games, the theory went, but Kaepernick could win them.
Now Harbaugh is gone, Kaepernick has one foot out of Santa Clara and Smith is at the controls of the Kansas City Chiefs, winners of five in a row and one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
Asked in a Wednesday conference call for his reaction to the Niners’ season from hell, Smith said, “No, no, no. It’s so far removed, I’ve got nothing.” But his half-hearted laugh said it all for him.
The same new Smith will call the shots at O.Co Coliseum on Sunday, when the Chiefs and Raiders hook up in a key AFC West game. The guy still rarely throws interceptions — his last came 283 passes ago — but he’s a bit more prone to take shots downfield than in the past. His 11.9 yards per completion and 243.7 yards per game are the best marks of his career.
Not coincidentally, the uptick coincided with the arrival of Jeremy Maclin, the kind of versatile go-to receiver that Smith didn’t have in recent years.
“There are probably a lot of things that go into that,” Smith said of his numbers. “Yeah, there’s different personnel this year. You know, it’s just being together longer. It’s different how we’re playing [schematically], how we’re getting played. … All of that plays into it. You’re always trying to progress and involve as an offense, so maybe that has played into it as well.
“Certainly, I feel this year a little bit we’ve had those opportunities, we’ve had good matchups and have taken those shots. In years past, the situations were all different, so it’s tough to compare.”
Could Smith have become something more in a more wide-open offense with better targets around him? We’ll never know. But the 49ers wish they could have him back, Balls bets.
TUCK AND DUCK: The Raiders sure could use co-captain Justin Tuck and his pass-rush and leadership abilities in the stretch drive, and he knows it better than anyone.
A pectoral injury has sidelined Tuck for the remainder of the season, and you don’t want to be near his television on game days.
“Follow my tweets on Sunday — it’s very difficult,” Tuck said when Balls asked what it was like to watch his team. “I had to walk out of the room at certain points, because I realized if I didn’t, I knew what I was going to buy myself for Christmas — and that would be a new TV. So it’s tough, man.”
Tuck is in the final year of a two-year deal, and it’s possible that the 32-year-old has played his final down in silver and black.
“This injury isn’t as bad a people think it is,” Tuck said. “I think that I could play right now, but that’s probably ignorant Tuck talking.”
SONNY, ONCE SO TRUE: Sonny Dykes and Cal should part ways. There’s no way a coach can allow himself to be courted elsewhere, as Dykes has been by Missouri this week, then tell his players that he really wants to be with them and still be effective.
Balls sees it both ways here.
Dykes is hacked off to be the lowest-paid coach in the Pac-12 and insulted by the offer that’s on the table. His Bear Raid offense has created some excitement in Berkeley — no small feat in itself after the Jeff Tedford years ended badly — and the Bears are bowl-bound for the first time since 2011. Academically, the bar has been raised in his tenure, and that may be his best accomplishment of all after Tedford let that element
At the same time, Dykes is under contract for two more seasons. If he’s more than an offensive coordinator, then he can prove it next season, when superstar quarterback Jared Goff won’t be around keep his team in games. And if Dykes is frustrated by the recruiting challenges, then that’s on him. What, did he think he was in Florida?
It’s time for Dykes to find a job in Texas, where his heart seems to be, while Cal finds a qualified candidate who wants to be there.
WAY OUT YONDER: Athletics operations chief Billy Beane was wheelin’ and dealin’ Wednesday, when he acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso in return for pitcher Drew Pomeranz and a minor league suspect.
As you might recall, Alonso was the guy whom the Padres kept at the expense of Anthony Rizzo, who was sent to the Chicago Cubs in a gift-wrapped package two years ago. Ooops.
The A’s also acquired retread pitcher Marc Rzepczynski in the deal. That’s 11 letters that will have to be put on the back of his jersey. Great. There goes the free-agent budget.
In a separate move, Ike Davis was designated for assignment. Last season, Davis did his best work out of the bullpen, where he didn’t allow a run in two appearances. He also hit .229 as a part-time first baseman.
SHARKS TANK AGAIN: The Sharks turned in another stinker at SAP Center, this one a 5-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Balls couldn’t recall a lamer home crowd at an NHL game. Then again, when your team owns the second-worst home record in the league, there’s not much to get excited about, is there?
The only local appearance of Sidney Crosby this season was greeted by about 1,000 empty seats, which was kinda sad for the only major pro team in San Jose.
The news wasn’t all bad, though. Patrick Marleau extended his goal break to four games and continued to increase his trade value in the process.
JUST SAYIN’: Before the game, Marleau was honored for his 1,000th career point, which made the only player to reach four figures with fewer than 100 hits in league history.
Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? (A compliment?!?) Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may get your name in the paper one day.